The season of Epiphany culminates on Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday and ushers in the forty days of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday. Mardi Gras is the last night to eat all of the rich foods in excess before the weeks of fasting and abstaining to prepare for the Holy Days of Easter. No wonder it’s called Fat Tuesday.
Since Mardi Gras traditions primarily hail from France, Spain and Africa the major U.S. observances center around places steeped in these cultures and lore, with New Orleans being the epicenter for all things Mardi Gras. Cajun dishes like Jambaylaya, Filé Gumbo and Crawfish pie, pepper the menus. Laden with lots of meat, seafood and zesty seasonings these are not light or bland fare. The traditional, colorful feasts being served indoors mirror the vibrant colors of the carnival taking place in the streets.
Last year, Mardi Gras arrived on my birthday, providing the perfect theme for this French girl’s party. Invites included one ingredient for guests to bring and drop into the jambalaya pot. The result was a sort of Creole Stone Soup event where all could participate in the melding of the flavors of friendship. The evening ended with guests indulging in King Cupcakes decorated with the traditional tri-colored topping. The recipient of the tiny baby hidden in one of the cakes assigned next year’s hosting duties to a new reveler.
Since we’re invited to an international potluck this year, I returned to the multi-cultural one-pot wonder believing it would work equally well in this setting. Jambalaya, based on brown rice in a highly seasoned broth with an assortment of shellfish, chicken, sausage and ham easily makes a group sized batch. The preferred Cajun sausage is andouille, because it is French and full of peppers, but use sparingly on N’awluns newbies as it has quite the kick. For the seasoned Creole connoiseurs Louisiana hot sauce should be served alongside. Zatarain’s brand condiments and spices, available at most grocery stores is the go-to source for these New Orleans ingredients.
No matter how close your proximity to a swamp or bayou, New Orleans cuisine is a simple yet rich style of cooking that feeds the improvisational nature in us all. We may hail from different places but we can come together to enjoy this incredible melting pot of tastes and cultures.
Recipe for Jambalaya